Sculpting with sand, sea and sun

Methuserah Mukenga adding detail to the whale sculpture.

For Methuserah Mukenga, Camps Bay beach is a canvas where he can create sculptures of sea creatures and other animals out of sand and sea water.

It’s an art that requires good weather, so when the Cape winter rains approach, Mr Mukenga is out of work. However, he doesn’t give up hope, even though winter has arrived irregularly this season.

“When there is no sun I do struggle, so I prefer the summer and I’m here whenever the sun shines. I’ve been doing this at Camps Bay since December 2018,” he said.

“The Camps Bay community appreciate this and they have allowed me to continue doing this. They can see what I’m doing adds value and they show their appreciation and it makes me feel good. They even supported me when law enforcement tried to stop me from working,” Mr Mukenga said.

Methuserah Mukenga sculpting a penguin.

Mukenga studied visual arts at the Nairobi Technical College in 1998 but did not complete the course; however, he picked up enough know-how to sculpt with sand, clay and concrete.

“I first saw this (sand sculpting) in Mombasa and I did some sculpting there. Then years later I saw it in Durban and it was done with so much more detail. I was really impressed and decided to do it here when I moved to Cape Town.”

Carefully adding detail to the dolphin.

Since arriving in South Africa in 2000, the 41-year-old has worked as a packer at a food factory and as a taxi driver, but always missed working with his hands.

“I was doing okay but I was not happy and decided to do this because it is something that is in my heart and in my mind. So I left the job I had and came here, to sculpt. Fortunately I met Innocent and he mentored me, he inspired me and showed me how to work better with the sand.”

The Rwandan citizen enjoys watching National Geographic and most of his sculpting revolves around animals. Armed with a plastic spoon and makeshift tools, Mr Mukenga is meticulous when moulding the fin of a dolphin or using a makeshift sprinkler to add depth to a whale’s body, lightly amending mistakes with his hands as he brings the creatures to life.

The sand sculptor with his tools.

“Sometimes I get requests from people, especially kids, they want baboons and octopus and sharks. They ask me to show them how to do it. But I can do anything, I enjoy it, and they enjoy watching me do it. They see I start with heaps of sand and then it slowly becomes a whale or a penguin and they are always surprised with what they see.”

Methuserah Mukenga relies on tips from those that appreciate his craft.

Mr Mukenga says he always creates a spacious heart as people love having their names inscribed on it.

“People that are in love, that are newly married, tourists and especially Joburg people, they like putting their names on the heart and taking pictures,” he quipped.

A couple from Atlantis strolling on the beach admired the work of Mr Mukenga.

“It’s artistic, I can easily identify the animals so the likeness is on point,” said 28-year old businessman Jowen Greeff.

“I hope someone sees this and gives him a chance to study so that he can exhibit his art elsewhere, he definitely has talent,” he said.

“It’s exceptional, you don’t see such art anywhere, so it’s unique and I appreciate his skill,” 25-year old Valencia Sass remarked.

Giving a personal touch to the couple admiring his work.